… but I digress

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Cover Battle – “Bohemian Rhapsody” September 19, 2014

 

Bohemian Rhapsody“. What words can I use to describe it?. Epic. Operatic. Dramatic. Theatrical. Performed by the legendary group Queen, this … masterpiece is like nothing you’ve ever heard. It sweeps through different tempos and stylings and vocals and levels. Excuse my French, but, it’s mother-fucking-brilliant! As such, this is one of those songs you think of as untouchable, not that others haven’t tried. But for most, they’d consider it sacrosanct – not to be tampered with, redone, reimagined, or covered. Except by The Muppets. Theirs is the only alternate version I would even deem worthy. It’s totally cute and hilarious and fun. But that’s it. Up until last week, that is.

 

During the season episode of the final season [ 😦 ] of Sons of Anarchy, the ending montage begins – a variety of scenes with a musical underscore – I’m looking at the screen, and listening to the music. I hear the opening words, and they sound familiar, and I’m like “wait – what? No. No way; they did not do this” But yes, they did: they covered “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

 

The musical director for SOA, Bob Thiele, has always been incredibly adept about finding just the right songs for the show. They’ve redone a few other songs over the years, that I never thought I would like as covers and they’ve blown me away each and every time. This was no different. I was floored by the audacity, but it was so well done, and so appropriate, that I loved it.

 

As mentioned above, the cover done by The Muppets is a true joy. Not only do they cover the song, but they pretty much recreate the stance of the original Queen video. They do change the words in some parts to fit into the whole Muppets world, but it’s still pretty perfect.

 

In checking the internet, I also found another really fun one. It’s a parody version with a Star Wars basis. It’s well executed, with a lot of attention to detail. I’m sure it would go over big at any Comic Con.

 

The group Panic! At the Disco does a live version which, surprisingly, I actually like. I don’t think it has the same force and power as Freddie Mercury’s vocal with Queen, but it’s really, really good. And I’m not just saying that because the lead singer is shirtless, I swear.

 

Actor and singer Adam Lambert performs parts of the song on stage with the surviving members of Queen. During the performance they play major portions of the original video, then Adam and the band come back in. It’s very effective and captivating. It gave me chills.

 

Adam actually performed the song for his audition on American Idol. Leading judge Simon Cowell clued into his theatricality and flair, and seemed a little unsure of him being a good fit for the competition. He ultimately gave him a “yes” vote. As did the other 3 judges, enthusiastically, because Adam is a good singer. The drama and exuberance is just a thrilling bonus.

 

In addition to performing the song with Adam Lambert, the band also did a performance of it with Elton John, tackling the earlier, more ballad-like section, and Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, taking on the later raucous role. They come together for the very end. I like hearing Elton’s voice. There’s a true respect and admiration for the material, the band, and Freddie that’s evident in his care with the song. Axl gives the later hard rock section his usual all-out frenetic gusto. It’s a respectable job.

 

A few years ago, a new hotel, The Cosmopolitan, was opening up in Vegas and they brought out a series of really … interesting commercials. (Their tag line was “Just the right amount of wrong”.) One of them featured the song, acted out, in a very dramatic way, using only the lyrics. The guitar riffs and whatnot were brought in at the end. I thought it was very creative and successfully done.

 

The most unexpected cover has to be the one from Jake Shimabukuro’s 2010 TED Talk presentation. On the ukelele. It’s unbelievably cool. This video is longer than the other versions only because they tack on a 3 minute Rolex commercial at the end. So, unless you’re seriously into Rolex watches you can shut it off after the 7:03 mark.

 

As they tend to be, cover versions done by William Shatner are usually pretty out there and have a strongly WTF? flavor. But this has to be one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve heard in quite some time. I think medication might be in order. For him, and for me.

 

I found a documentary on the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that you might also be interested in. It runs just under an hour.

   


   

 

Cover Battle – “Benny and the Jets” March 7, 2014

 

The song “Bennie and the Jets” was originally recorded in 1973 and is one of my favorite Elton John classics. It features a seriously catchy piano hook, intensely singable lyrics (by Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin), and a great screeching falsetto. It’s a really good example of his many talents.

 

Rap artist Biz Markie gives a totally over the top performance of the song on The Chris Rock Show. It’s funny, it’s wtf?, and crazy as hell, but it’s totally sincere, and I can’t fault him for it. I think it helps that the backup band is really, really good, though. And it’s kind of nice hearing classic music being acknowledged by artists who came after.

 

I think he fares much better on this than on the live version he did with the Beastie Boys. Honestly, in some parts, it sounds as if he’s drunk and/or has no clue as to what the words are, or he’s just half-assing it.

 

American Idol contestant Haley Reinhart brought something slightly different to this. She did it with kind of a torchy vibe. Her studio version is nice, but doing it live you can see how engaging she is. She showcases more power – her voice goes from a growl to a hiss to a scream to a whisper. It’s all unique and it’s all pretty great.

 

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “Celebrate Me Home” February 7, 2014

 

In last week’s battle I referenced the album Celebrate Me Home and mentioned how good I thought the title song was. Well, now you guys get to decide for yourself.

 

The original, written and performed by Kenny Loggins, may be my favorite non-traditional, non-spoof, modern Christmas song. The emotional depth that Kenny brings to this song is outstanding and it gets to me every single time. I could listen to this, multiple times, at any time of the year. Actually I enjoy Christmas music more outside of the holiday season, because it’s not so rote and shoved down your throat everywhere you turn.

 

The video I use here is from Kenny’s concert “Live At The Grand Canyon” and features a truly amazing sax solo.

 

For Donna Summer’s performance, live in concert, it started off with me not liking it too much. As she got more into it, it really grew on me. She puts just a slight religious touch to it, turning it into a heartfelt, joyful memorial of loved ones gone too soon.

 

Hearing Ruben Studdard sing this literally gave me chills. He does an excellent job. Having him do it on the stage of the show that first brought him to national attention, American Idol, was an apt homecoming.

 

I didn’t really like the version by Lady Antebellum. They’re a good band. I mean, I only know one song of theirs (“Need You Now“) and I enjoy it. The song just didn’t seem as special on this one. I didn’t feel any sort of deep emotional stirrings when I heard their take.

 

Little River Band. I … Uh … What the …? Just … no. Nope. Nope. Nope. Is “abomination” too strong a word to use? Perhaps, but I’m gonna leave it here. And I used to be all over Little River Band years ago, so it’s not like my innate bias against country. (And no, that didn’t play into my dislike of the Lady Antebellum one). Frankly I think this one is kinda crappy and messed up.

   

   

 

Cover Battle – “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” October 4, 2013

 

Songstress and legend Whitney Houston left us in early 2012. She was a multi-talented artist who, sadly, couldn’t escape the troubles and demons she had previously conquered.

 

Whitney left a legacy of anthemic songs and stunning performances. I think “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”, the theme from the movie Waiting to Exhale, is overlooked, though. It’s subtle and graceful, warm and embracing. This song provides a wonderful showcase for Whitney’s gifts. No overdone vocal gymnastics or overbearing orchestration. It’s lovely and infinitely listenable. In a word – Perfection.

 

I’ve been a fan of Robin Thicke’s for awhile now. I used to think he should be just as popular as another purveyor of genuine white-boy soul, Justin Timberlake. I have to admit, though, that lately Robin’s been seriously wearing on my nerves. And the more I see and listen to him, the cheesier he’s sounding to me. I mean don’t even get me started on the whole “Blurred Lines” business and some of his comments in general.

 

But anyway, back to the song. Robin’s heartfelt tribute to the late Whitney Houston is beautiful and gives me chills. No cheesiness factor at all, just an honest homage and respect throughout. Very well done.

 

American Idol alums Kelly Clarkson and Tamyra Gray performed the song, live on stage. It’s nicely done as a duet, by two very engaging singers. Very powerful and sincere.

 

The version by The Chipettes is … a little weird. It’s not a cutesy, funny song so I don’t think a cutesy-voiced cover makes any sense at all.

 

I also found this video of the song’s writer, Babyface, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, singing a snippet of the song (at 1:07).

   

   

 

Cover Battle: “Lovesong” May 3, 2013

 

I never listened to The Cure, but I’ve heard this song in bits and pieces over the years. The parts that I’ve heard I liked, but I just never explored any further. A couple of weeks ago certain segments of the interwebz were blowing up over the cover done by one American Idol contestant (Candice Glover) so I checked it out.

 

Wow, as in incredible. W.O.W., as in With. Out. Words. Stunning. Smoky. Transformational. Just … WOW.


So, in searching YouTube and checking out listener/viewer comments I discovered there was an Adele version, which some people think Candice, somehow … “plagiarized” (their word, not mine). I disagree. While both versions are obviously pared down and much slower they’re not the same at all. I think Candice’s arrangement is, obviously, more piano driven: languid and lush. Like you’re falling back into the most decadent, silkiest, softest, pile of pillows you could ever imagine. Adele’s performance is a more guitar and percussion-based, “let’s chill” style.

 

Now – the Tori Amos version. I really like a couple of her songs but sometimes I really can’t get past that tremolo thing in her voice. It almost takes me out of the song. It seems put on or precious; like she’s trying too hard be all delicate and twee, but I know that’s just her.

   

   

 

Cover Battle: “Don’t You Forget About Me” April 26, 2013

 

This’ll be a short one. I’m only using three examples*: the original (by Simple Minds), a really good version by an American Idol winner (David Cook) and a remake done by one of the stars (Molly Ringwald) of the movie the song is from (The Breakfast Club). Actually it’s only a preview of a remake. I couldn’t find a full version of it, but there’s more than enough here to get a nice taste of the vocal stylings.

 

I know Molly has been singing jazz since she was a kid, so I knew it would be a different take, but it’s really different. And I don’t think it works. It’s sort of bizarre, to me, and doesn’t do the song any favors, nor does it show off her voice in the best way. Just my opinion.

 

   

   
   

 

*There’s also a version from the movie Pitch Perfect (a Glee-ish, acapella chorus type thing) but it’s part of a medley with a couple of other songs and frankly I’m just sick of hearing that kind of stuff. At this point all that Glee stuff sounds the same to me: high-pitched and kind of Alvin and Chipmunk-y.

   

 

Cover Battle: “Feeling Good” April 19, 2013

 

As I come up with more and more songs, these cover battle intros (and video examples) are getting longer. May have to start editing myself again. Eventually. But anyway –

 

What can I say about this song. It’s awesome. I’m not even sure anyone can go wrong with this song. I mean, those horns? Come on! It’s big and brassy and showy and dramatic. I think you can tell I kinda like it. I heard the first one years ago during my Buble infatuation.* I knew I had heard the song before but I don’t remember when or where or by who (whom?) or in what context. Michael’s version is super slick and sexy and checking out the video you can easily see this used in a Bond flick.

 

The Muse version, I think, is the best one. It’s hard and passionate and bold and, in plain English (see what I did there? ‘cuz, like, they’re British?) totally kicks ass. Adam Lambert’s is modern and uses his sweet screeching (in a good way) falsetto and vocal gymnastics to good effect. It’s just over the top and it suits him.

 

Nina Simone. Deep voiced and throaty , nothing outrageous, just straight forward singing; a little old school scatting. Cool. Crazy cool.

 

I just heard Jennifer Hudson’s version for the first time today, and after only a few seconds in I got chills. The power of her voice is amazing. I do feel some of the smolder is lost in the slightly faster tempo of this arrangement. But still, it’s a great breakdown of a powerful piece of music.

 

I think the Rebecca Ferguson performance is a little less successful, for me. While she does seem to bring a new take the song (and her look is flawless) I can sense a little hint of timidity and uncertainty in her performance. I think if she just owned it a bit more that would go a long way in selling it to the audience.

 

Now Ed Sheeran. Wow. Totally unexpected. With no horns or big orchestral instrumentation, on a live radio station mike (mic?) with only his guitar as accompaniment .

 

I’ve also included a recording done by the composer, English actor and singer Anthony Newley. It’s heavy on piano and strings, and doesn’t really hint at the potential power of future incarnations, but I don’t think composer showcase versions ever really do.

 

Shoot – Just found a Bobby Darin one, too. And in my book if there’s a Bobby Darin version, it is not to be ignored. Evah. Bobby can do no wrong. This is called taking a song and making it your own. Same song as everyone else but it’s all Bobby.

 

And of course I just found two more. That’s it, guys, I swear. Really.

 

So we have George Michael. It’s good, but I don’t know if I’d keep coming back to it. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times. And then we have the lovely John Barrowman aka Doctor Who/Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness (excuse me, while I go all gushy). Where’s my fainting couch so I can give a proper swoon. That laugh he gives at the end? Unf.

 

Okay, now that’s it. I really mean it this time. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed now to dream of Captain Jack.

 

 

   

   

 

*It’s over, he’s married now and we’ve both moved on. (Buble: call me!)

 

 
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